Conjuring up a winter wonderland
TWINKLING colourful lights, dazzling decorations and a towering tree to be proud of. If you thought getting the front room ready for Christmas was tough, spare a thought for the people behind Edinburgh's spectacular Wonderland.
While most of us haven't quite got around to dragging last year's artificial tree from the loft, more than 100 workers have been busy pulling out the stops in Princes Street Gardens, creating a Christmas spectacular that promises to be bigger, better and, no doubt, even busier than ever before.
Slowly and surely, the autumnal bareness of Princes Street Gardens is being replaced by dozens of thrilling fairground rides, two ice rinks, scores of market stalls and the showpiece ferris wheel and traditional carousel which will bring the heart of the Capital to life for seven fun-filled festive weeks.
Next Thursday will see it all come together, when three months of planning followed by three weeks of hard graft using 2000 scaffolding boards, 20,000 metres of scaffold and 700 metres of carpet - along with dozens of electricity generators, ice-making equipment and, naturally, 86 Christmas trees - is finally unveiled to the public.
Light Night, as the evening has been dubbed, kicks off at 5.15pm with an ice show, fireworks and the launch of Edinburgh's Christmas and Winter Wonderland. And it will reach a climax with the illumination of the 1800 lights laced around the 53ft Sitka spruce tree on The Mound.
It is the ninth year Edinburgh's gardens have been brought to dazzling life for a Christmas festival treat. And preparing for this year's seven-week-long festival of fun has been an even bigger challenge than ever before.
The biggest and most obvious indication that Christmas is coming arrived earlier this week when the towering frame of fairground company M&D's ferris wheel took shape in the shadow of the Scott Monument. The dazzling 33-metre span of the ferris wheel - in its prime position opposite Jenners and dominating the Princes Street skyline - was erected piece by piece on Tuesday by a team of fairground experts.
Soon what today looks like little more than a building site will be transformed by the traditional German market stalls and, for the first time, an invasion of Highland-themed log cabin-style stalls, each adorned with a pair of "antlers".
Work is well under way at the coolest place in town - the Winter Wonderland site, with two ice rinks, a snow slide for sledge rides, wintry games and even a bar made of ice. And the logistics of getting it together are, frankly, chilling.
The larger of the two ice rinks requires the equivalent of 6500 average household freezers to run and with a skating area of 40 by 20 metres and a whopping 80 tons of ice to keep nicely chilled, it's a mammoth operation just to get it all up and running. A layer of scaffolding at ground level has already been covered with two layers of planking and then a further floor of decking.
The ice rink crews then covered it all with a polystyrene layer, a plastic layer and an custom-made ice mat - cleverly designed rolls of matting with tubes filled with Gycol coolant which keep the ice chilled even in scorching outdoor temperatures of up to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
The finishing touch involves creating the ice, explains Winter Wonderland ice manager Ann Russell. "We have two hoses and we cover the area layer by layer, a millimetre at a time, building up each layer of ice until it is five or six inches thick. It takes seven days, hosing each layer, 24 hours a day, to get it ready," she explains.
It's a similar process at the nearby junior rink, a ten by ten metre kiddy version suitable for youngsters under seven. It might be smaller, but it still requires the power of 1200 household freezers to keep its six tons of packed ice nicely chilled.
This year's Wonderland boasts what promises to be the coolest addition so far - a specially sculpted gallery bar made from giant blocks of ice.
Twenty tons of carefully chiselled solid ice will be encased inside a horseshoe-shaped insulated 15m by 8m "ice box" - and just getting the icy blocks to Edinburgh is something of a major feat. "The ice is coming all the way from Italy," explains Ann. "I know, strange that ice should be coming from somewhere we all think of as being quite warm.
"It is being exported by special truck to London where it will be sculpted and then brought to Edinburgh by road."
Adding to the snow and ice theme will be a five-metre high, 21 metres long snowslide on the embankment at the east end of the Gardens, a 125 sq metre white Snowflex carpet which will provide enough elbow room for three sledges at a time to whizz down.
Pulling it all together is hard work but worth the effort to see the Gardens transformed, says Phil O'Halloran, production manager at the Winter Wonderland site.
"We're all looking forward to next Thursday when we're putting the final touches to it for the launch. It's then we can stand back, take a deep breath and then get ready for the next seven weeks of looking after it all and making sure it all runs properly."
With more than 100 crew to manage, thousands of bits and pieces of equipment and a deadline to meet, Phil is at least grateful that Edinburgh's weather has been kind.
"We have been so lucky that the rain has kept away. Everything is going to plan and there have been no hitches," he says, touching wood. And it's not been all hard work, he admits. "We see it as our obligation to test everything thoroughly, so we will be making particularly sure that the Snowslide is fully operational by having a few rides down it ourselves."
Last year Edinburgh's Christmas attracted more than 250,000 visitors to the German Market alone, 27 per cent of them tourists from abroad.
Nickie Gott, the managing director of She's Gott It!, the producers of Edinburgh's Christmas festivities, says: "We are planning a Christmas which is not just for the thousands of visitors, but also something the residents of the Capital can be proud of."
Lighting up the night
FEELING overwhelmed by the thought of Christmas? Take a look at these festive facts and be grateful it's just the living room you have to worry about decorating.
• More than 200,000 bulbs light up Edinburgh's Christmas, with more than ten kilometres of cabling.
• The Edinburgh Wheel is 33 metres high and completes more than two million rotations during the festive period.
• More than 15,000 mugs of gluhwein - German mulled wine - are enjoyed at the Traditional German Christmas Market.
• West Princes Street gardens is to be home to ten live reindeer from December 14 to 23. You can post your letters in his special letterbox at Santa's Reindeer Garden.
• Hotels in Lothians enjoy high occupancy rates for December of 64 per cent.
• Last year the city's Winter Festivals, generated 31.4 million for Edinburgh's economy and attracted more than 500,000 people to the city centre.
• We like it too - 78 per cent of residents agree that the city is a better place to live because of Edinburgh's Winter Festivals.
YOU can't have Christmas without a tree... although Edinburgh almost did.
Last week the Evening News told how the traditional Norwegian tree - a gift to the city for the past 23 years from the Norwegian region of Hordaland - was suddenly 'axed' after the tree's owner stepped in to stop the tree being chopped down.
Edinburgh grandmother Pauline Wood, 59, from Easter Drylaw Avenue, won an Evening News prize draw to travel to the outskirts of Bergen in Norway with her three grandchildren to take part in the ceremonial felling of this year's tree, only for it to be called off.
Today a 53ft Sitka spruce sits on The Mound. It was carefully manoeuvred into place in a delicate four-hour operation.
Like last year's Christmas tree, it was grown at Kielder Forest in the Scottish Borders, and next Thursday its 1800 lights will be switched on.
A council spokesperson confirmed the tree has been paid for by the Norwegians.
"For more than 20 years, the people of Hordaland in Norway have gifted a Christmas tree to the City of Edinburgh.
"This year they are once again presenting a tree to the city and we are thrilled to receive this festive offering."
• Edinburgh's Christmas celebrations aren't simply confined to Princes St Gardens. For full details go to www.edinburghschristmas.com
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Weather for Edinburgh
Wednesday 22 May 2013
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